What is a Personal Learning Environment?
Written by Mike Hoffman Friday, 18 November 2011
Arvixe is trying to help introduce a new paradigm to academe – the Personal Learning Environment. The PLE is a topic that has already gained quite a following and interest internationally, but is just beginning to take hold in the United States. Ames Brown of Post University is working to create a PLE consortium and formally define the PLE for all to access at w3ple.org.
The basic idea is that students are given a web platform to create and share their own knowledge. Post University, a traditional New England university with an excellent online program, is a notable example of how the PLE can be implemented today – all incoming students in the university’s Master of Education program create a personal website and unique domain name that they continually build upon throughout their degree curriculum.
Arvixe is uniquely prepared to serve the needs of universities, right now. Just as the M.Ed. program at Post University has a special Arvixe landing page with a simple sign-up process and custom billing, Arvixe is also expanding to make registration portals available for other universities nationwide, such as:
Let’s start by learning about the history of the PLE and it’s role on the web, and how hosting companies such as Arvixe can help the process!
Web 1.0, beginning in 1994, was all about publishing and indexing static content. It was the visitors’ web as opposed to the authors’ web since it required a great deal of technical expertise to author and contribute content.
Web 2.0, beginning in 2004, made it a lot easier to publish content using authoring tools built right into the web as well as enabling visitors to interactively contribute to existing web content through social networking technologies.
Web 3.0, arriving in the next few years, will provide a much more integrated approach to authoring content across media modalities and allow this content to more easily index itself and interact with our physical surroundings. A new focus on contributing more sophisticated information to the web will merge the authoring and visiting roles of both people and devices into the next, more seamless phase of the web.
In the Web 3.0 world full of a dizzying array of network-attached devices such as kitchen appliances, lighting systems, traffic sensors, etc., a device will be as likely to have a dedicated ‘personal web address’ as a person. As the web becomes increasingly more dynamic, full of both emerging cloud app portals and ones which are fading away, it is important to cultivate your own ‘personal home’ on the web which becomes a stable base from which to explore and ‘camp out’ among the constantly shifting array of free cloud portals and emerging new cloud apps.
For students and lifelong adult learners, we can think of such a permanent home domain as a personal learning environment (PLE). It is not one particular cloud app, rather it is the ‘pure web’ with a toolset enabling the person/owner of that domain to constantly adapt it to new developments. It grows with the person over time and constantly reflects new ‘interior designs’ and ‘remodeling’ as needed. A PLE allows the owner of it to be a true author, contributor, and social interactor with the wider web ecology while still maintaining the stability of a personal home base on the web which is not dependent on the evolving marketing strategies of free portal services.
A PLE enables students to channel the thousands of hours of work they do in courses and degree programs into authentic, real-world outlets for their evolving content. Every course project is in essence ‘content’ being developed as part of a learner’s PLE…potentially visited and interacted with by other people/learners.
Benefits of a PLE
Unlike the ‘exhibition model’ digital portfolios, a PLE is much more naturally attuned to the authentic personal and professional needs of the owner. Of course, as in a digital portfolio, we all like to naturally exhibit/display new features. However the passive role of an ‘exhibit’ is only one of many features of a fluid PLE site. Along with exhibiting this or that project, a PLE might just as likely be hosting a discussion on a particular topic, asking visitors to complete a quick survey, providing a quick ‘breaking news’ report about storm damage in one neighborhood, contributing a ‘how to’ screencast video on a recently learned technique…the possibilities are endless!
- Students set up their own personal server sites
- Students register their own personal web domains
- Students can install and host their own Web 2.0 tools & apps
- Students can host their own social networking outreach
- Students can host their own LMS (learning management system)
- Students can easily transition their authored coursework into content for their sites
- Students develop an authentic, career-driven, public, networked presence
- Students build their presence steadily as they progress through their university/college degree program
Adding a PLE initiative to your college or university degree program is a lot like selecting a textbook…it’s just another curriculum material which costs about the same as a textbook. And like a textbook, each student owns it.
The following suggested steps are helpful to keep in mind when adding a PLE initiative to your academic degree program:
- Select a professional web hosting provider who will set up a special ordering page for students in your program where students can order a professional cPanel server domain as easily as if they were ordering a textbook online.
- Define a hosting price point for one year more than the number of years your students take to complete their degree program, e.g. 5-years for a undergraduate degree, 3-years for a masters degree, etc. The total cost for your students should be less than one of the comprehensive textbooks used in your program.
- Make sure the hosting provider meets a set of minimal standards which give your students an easy and comprehensive web platform to ‘grow into’ for their PLE sites (see below).
- Designate a foundational course at the beginning of your degree program’s curriculum sequence where students order and initiate their PLE sites.
- Designate a project/activity in every single course in your degree program which is PLE-related, i.e. completing that project/activity requires students to author/adapt the project for their PLE sites.
- At the start of each course collect all the PLE site domains for the students in the class and provide a central list to the students. With an online or blended course, students can be required to post their PLE web addresses during the first week of class.
When selecting a high-end web hosting provider to sell PLE hosting domains to your students at the cost of a textbook, here are a few good criteria to keep in mind:
- Web interface driven by cPanel
- Softaculous cloud app installers provided in cPanel
- Personal web domain registration as part of the PLE hosting package
- No limit on the number of databases which can be installed (most cloud apps, such as WordPress, use a database to manage everything on the backend)
- Default PHP file upload limit at least 128MB (allows easy web-based upload of large files within apps such as WordPress)
- Hosting Provider is willing to provide a custom landing page for your academic program which provides an easy ordering procedure for students
- Hosting Provider has billing system flexibility and the ability to create a flexible hosting bundle for a ‘one-off’ initial 5-year or 3-year period for each student, depending on how long it takes your students to complete their degree program
- Hosting Provider has friendly, knowledgeable support staff who can be reached by either phone or live chat 24/7 with very short hold times
- Hosting Provider never places more than 250 hosting accounts on any one server in their data center(s)
- Hosting Provider maintains a record of 99.9% up-time for their servers and regularly updates the technology used in their data center(s)
The PLE environment is something brand new to the web, and hopefully now you can see the purpose and benefits of providing this to students. If you have any questions at all, please leave a comment or email me at [email protected] I am in charge of the Arvixe University Outreach program and also blog administrator. Thanks for taking a look, and happy hosting!